The war had made him famous. Not as famous as Murrow, the voice of London, and not as famous as Quent Reynolds, now the voice of the documentaries, but famous enough to get a promise from Collier's ("four pieces, if you can get there") and then the press pass to Berlin. In the end, it was Hal Reidy who'd made the difference, juggling the press slots like seating arrangements, UP next to ScrippsHoward, down the table from Hearst, who'd assigned too many people anyway.
"I can't get you out till Monday, though. They won't give us another plane, not with the conference on. Unless you've got some pull. "
Hal grinned. "You're in worse shape than I thought. Say hello to Nanny Wendt for me, the prick." Their censor from the old days, before the war, when they'd both been with Columbia, a nervous little man, prim as a governess, who liked to run a pen through their copy just before they went on the air. "The Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment," Hal said, the way he always did. "I wonder what happened to him. Goebbels poisoned his own kids, I hear."
"No, Magda," Jake said. " The gnädige frau. In chocolates. "
"Yeah, sweets to the sweet. Nice people." He handed Jake the traveling orders. "Have a good time."
"You should come too. It's a historic occasion.
"So's this," Hal said, pointing to another set of orders. "Two more weeks and I'm home. Berlin. Christ. I couldn't wait to get out. And you want to go back?"
Jake shrugged. "It's the last big story of the war."
"Sitting around a table, divvying up the pot."
"No. What happens when it's over."
"What happens is, you go home."
Hal glanced up. "You think she's still there?", he said flatly.
Jake put the orders in his pocket, not answering.
"It's been a while, you know. Things happen."
Jake nodded. "She'll be there, Thanks for this. I owe you one."
"More than one," Hal said, letting it go. "Just write pretty. And don't miss the plane."
But the plane was hours late getting into Frankfurt, then hours on the ground unloading and turning around, so it was mid-afternoon before they took off. The C- 7 was a drafty military transport fitted out with benches along the sides and the passengers, a spillover of journalists who, like Jake, hadn't made the earlier flights, had to shout over the engines. After a while Jake gave up and sat back with his eyes closed, feeling queasy as the plane bumped its way east. There had been drinks while they waited, and Brian Stanley, the Daily Express man who had somehow attached himself to the American group, was already eloquently drunk, with most of the others not far behind. Belser from Gannett, and Cowley, who'd kept tabs on the SHAEF press office from a barstool at the Scribe, and Gimbel, who had traveled with Jake following Patton into Thuringia. They had all been at war forever, in their khakis with the round correspondent patch, even Liz Yeager, the photographer, wearing a heavy pistol on her hip, cowgirl style.
He'd known all of them one way or another, their faces like pins in his own war map. London, where he'd finally left Columbia in '42 because he wanted to see the fighting war. North Africa, where he it and caught a piece of shrapnel. Cairo, where he recovered and drank the nights away with Brian Stanley. Sicily, missing Palermo but managing, improbably, to get on with Patton, so that later, after France, he joined him again for the race east. Across Hesse and Thuringia, everything accelerated, the stop-and-go days of fitful waiting over, finally a war of clear, running adrenaline. Weimar. Then, finally, up to Nordhausen, and Camp Dora, Where everything stopped. Two days of staring, not even able to talk. He wrote down numbers -- two hundred a day -- and then stopped that too. A newsreel camera filmed the stacks of bodies, jutting bones and floppy genitals. The living, with their striped rags and shaved heads, had no sex.
Copyright © 2001 Joseph Kanon
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